I spent a lot of time this week looking into mirrors.
No it was not vanity or obsession. Middle aged bald men don’t usually spend all that much time worrying about coiffure and couture.
The mirrors were my wife’s idea. She thought it was time to update our four bathrooms.
Fancy new faucets and sink hardware required under-cabinet contortions that have left me sore in places I didn’t realize there were muscles.
Then there were the mirrors. First, five large plate-glass mirrors had to be removed. This I left to professionals as I quite enjoy having all 10 of my fingers. Next, there was wall repair…nothing better than elbow deep in mud and texture while covered in paint.
Then the ceremonial hanging of the new framed mirrors. Much better…she was right! The project turned out quite nicely.
But spending days staring at myself in those mirrors reminded me of how often I do not like the person I see looking back at me. It seems that he is never quite far enough along in becoming what I think he ought to be.
Plus, all of this happened on the same week my Pastor asked that I pinch hit for him in the pulpit while he was on vacation. Thus the responsibility for this weekend’s message fell in my lap. So did the particular passage in James we are currently studying.
Of course, it was the one about taming the tongue! (James 3:1-12)
Here’s the dilemma. I am a bit vocal with my frustrations while working on any project that requires the use of tools. My children find it a perverse form of entertainment to see how long I can avoid using unseemly words while tugging on wrenches or pounding with hammers.
On top of that, James writes all this stuff about how important it is to deal with our words–what we say, how we say it, the motive behind our speech and the impact of our words on others. But in the very same breath he says, “Oh by the way, NO MAN can tame the tongue!” He didn’t say it was hard, he said it was impossible!
Yet, if we do not do the Word, James says we’re simply faking it. “Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like someone who looks at his face in a mirror and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like.” (James 1:22-24)
Awesome…my Pastor left me to teach during a week of finger smashing and head banging on the subject of how important it is to do what cannot be done!
Staring in those mirrors while meditating on this difficult passage has taught me something important about reflection. We who have thrown ourselves with abandon on the grace of Jesus do not see our own ugly mugs staring back at us in our mirrors.
We see Him…and all that He is doing to create and perfect His image in us.
“But all of us who are Christians have no veils on our faces, but reflect like mirrors the glory of the Lord. We are transfigured by the Spirit of the Lord in ever-increasing splendor into his own image.” (2 Corinthians 3:18, Phillips)
Blessed assurance! The finished work of Jesus insures that we are seen by the Father always and only as the image of Jesus, not as we see ourselves in the mirror.
James knew that.
I think he gets a bad rap as the “Apostle of works”. In reality he is simply a radical proponent of fruit that naturally rises from a completely transformed source.
The beauty of what he tells us about the tongue is:
- What we say is a really big deal.
- In our brokenness we are not able to control our words so that we consistently speak God’s heart.
- That leaves us in a grace predicament–the best kind to be in!
What we cannot do by working on the symptom (our words) He accomplishes by transforming the source (our hearts). What we cannot create by our most sincere yet inadequate efforts He creates by simply depositing His life within us.
The presence of the Holy Spirit in us changes all that we are–at every level of our being–through the work of grace. His vision of our destiny isn’t sidetracked by our inability to change ourselves. It isn’t our job anyhow!
The transformations we would pursue would doubtless be shallow and superficial. They would be all about making us look better, seem more spiritual and feel more holy. Unquestionably, they would also be based on comparison with others.
But Jesus made it clear. The heart of the problem is the problem of the heart. “…for the mouth speaks what the heart is full of.” (Jesus, Luke 6:45)
It is best to honestly admit and joyfully rest in this fact: He is the only one who can change me so authentically that I start seeing Him in the mirror.
- When we stare in mirrors, by grace we see Jesus staring back at us.
- When we struggle with our words, we hear His Spirit speaking life to our hearts.
Somehow, grace creates out of us the image and character, the heart and voice of Jesus. The beauty of it all is that He is working in us now–creating Jesus’ reflection in our mirrors and changing our hearts to be like His–so that one day we will perfectly reflect Him.
“For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.” (1 Corinthians 13:12)
We will be His mirror image. May as well get started now.